Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas in Kolkata

Merry Christmas from Kolkata! This was my second Christmas in Kolkata. Three years ago, Christmas represented the end of my time in Kolkata. This year, Christmas is not even the halfway point of my time here. The community here takes the time to celebrate well and includes us in the festivities. We decorated Christmas cookies, sang Christmas carols, watched Christmas movies, opened stockings, ate cinnamon rolls and danced with friends. We talked about the traditions we have back home. We incorporated some traditions into the holiday plans here. It was a time of laughter and gifts, but also sadness as we were all away from family and friends for the holidays. I thought the second time around it would be easier to be away from family but it was harder knowing my immediate family was spending Christmas together in Arkansas this year. It was hard being away from friends as they gathered to celebrate Christmas together. It is hard not having the modern convince of hot water or central heating when the temperature dips into the 50s at night and our cement apartment is freezing.

I am grateful to be outside the consumerism which surrounds the holidays in the States. I enjoy finding ways to celebrate with new friends here and learn about Christmas traditions from different cultures. It was a gift to be a part of the Sari Bari Christmas party and see the ladies dressed in their finest clothes. At each event, there was a sense of joy which permeated the whole space. It is the joy we having in knowing Christmas represents Jesus being born to bring hope to all mankind. It is this joy I cling to as I continue to do life amidst the chaos.

I am so thankful for the packages, texts, emails and messages wishing me a Merry Christmas. It reminds me that I am not alone in this. I have a community back home praying for me and encouraging me along the way. I am looking forward to ringing into 2015 with my Kolkata community.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Month Two

I have been in Kolkata for two months. Some days it seems like I arrived two days ago and other times it seems like I have been here for two years. In the past month, I have started teaching English to a few of the ladies in leadership, packed products for shipments, celebrated Thanksgiving, attended the Sari Bari Christmas party, bought Christmas gifts, received cards, letters, boxes from home, been grabbed by men, slipped on street sludge, watched mice run through our apartment, and drank lots of coffee, hot chocolate and apple cider. (If you are interested in replenishing our stash of hot drinks or American candy, feel free to send them here.)

Kolkata is a city that requires a fight. On the ten minute walk to the office, I see women working the line. I am started at by the men on the street and occasionally grabbed. I play frogger with the cars, bikes, trams, trucks and busses who refuse to share the road. I have to carefully place every step to avoid the feces and trash in the gutters. Most days I choose to be blissfully unaware of the chaos around me by putting in my headphones and walking with my head down. I am hyper aware of people around me. I can tell when someone is following me and hope they will turn another way or I can slip into a crowd to loose them. 

Kolkata is also a city full of beauty. The women I work with are beautiful and love each other so well. It was so much fun to see them dressed in their fancy clothes for the Christmas party. It is beautiful to see the women choose freedom. I have been welcomed into a beautiful community of freedom fighters. We lament the hard things in working with women leaving the trade. We celebrate victories big and small. The women work hard and we work hard alongside them. We get to see their stories and pass bits and pieces along to you. 

I am looking forward to the next four months. I am expectantly waiting for Jesus to transform the red light areas of this city. I am excited to celebrate another Christmas in this crazy, chaotic city. I will be excited to return to hot, running water, readily available toilet paper and washing machines. 

Also, if you want to know more about Sari Bari the 2014 Annual Report has just been released. It clearly paints the beautiful picture of freedom for these women. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lament Within the Advent Season

I have been reading A Sacred Sorrow as part of my internship at Sari Bari. It shines light on the way we can lament in a healthy way and turn the lament into worship. God is first and for most with us and when we lament He is listening. Everyday I see things on the streets of Kolkata that I want to lament and cry out to God about the injustice, brokenness, sorrow of the child eating food out of the trash pile or men beating each other up on the streets. All around me I want to lament the small things like one of the Sari Bari women being sick and the big things like women forced to sell their bodies. For me, it is hard to actually take in and process what I see so I have to compartmentalize and numb myself so I can continue through my day. I look into the eyes of children begging and tell them no. I pass the women working the line and all I have to offer them is a smile. I walk past people sleeping on the street or passed out in the gutter on the way to my comfortable flat. I am still figuring out how to process and lament these things. As I numb the bad, the good is also beginning to dull. 

On Sunday, a group of us came together to celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. A season of expectant waiting for the coming Savior who would bring justice and peace to a broken world. Someone pointed out they would not want to be Mary as she gave birth to this little baby who the world would crucify. Mary would have been full of lament as people saw her baby growing knowing she wasn't married. Lament was probably rolling off her tongue as she watched her son brutally murdered on a hill. In this season of Advent, I want to celebrate the ways the Kingdom of God has already come in Kolkata. The steps towards freedom the women at Sari Bari have taken on a daily basis. I want to lament the ways I am still waiting for Jesus to come. The women still trapped in the trade and are losing hope of a way out. I pray for eyes to more clearly see Jesus in the lanes of Kolkata. I pray for a heat that can lament the hard stuff and then the joy to turn it into worship. I sit with open hands during this season of expectant waiting. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Daily Roller Coaster of Life in Kolkata

This week has been a very full week. I started teaching English to a few of the ladies. Sari Bari has a huge order going out in January. I wrestled with the very real reality of the limited funds in my support account and that meant moving up my return date. My niece was born this week and I am excited to see her when I get back. Multiple men "accidentally" ran into my butt with their hand. I received a package of goodies from my parents and a sweet Christmas card from a good friend.

Each day in Kolkata is exhausting. The path I walk to and from work is along the edge of the biggest red light area in Kolkata. It hurts my heart to see women lining the streets and alleys waiting for their next customer. It takes a toll on my mind when men are constantly looking at me and trying to get my attention or "accidentally" running into me to get a quick feel. My body is filled with pollution (its three times worse than LA) which results in getting colds more often and generally feeling tired. Some nights are sleepless due to the street noise outside the window or the coughing when I have a cold. 

Each day in Kolkata is also beautiful. I get to sit amongst some amazing, beautiful women that have chosen freedom. They share their food with me when they think I did not bring enough food to be full. (Force feeding is a love language in Kolkata.) The laughter that rings out when I do something ridiculous like dance or the facial expression when they watch me try Indian candy or sweets. The pride they have in the products they are working on. Their beautiful voices that ring out as they sing worship songs each morning and the beauty of a child singing that same song when she visit her mom in the afternoon. 

Each days has it's highs and lows. Some days the highs out number the lows. Some days the lows out number the highs. Every day I know that I am held tightly by a God who is bigger than all of the highs and lows. He has lead me to this city for a period of time and I know He is my constant companion as I walk through the hard parts of each day. I praise Him in the good things. I am thankful for a community of believes that prays for each other as we all walk along the path God sets before us. I am grateful for the encouraging letters people have written. It makes the hard days better. I look forward to the ways God will show up throughout the rest of my time here. 

"This I know, that God is for me. 
In God, whose word I praise, 
in the Lord, whose name I praise, 
in God I trust, I shall not be afraid. 
What can man do to me?

I must perform my my vows to you, O God; 
I will render than offerings to you. 
For you have delivered my soul from death, 
yes, my feet from falling, 
that I may walk before God 
in the light of life"

Psalm 56:10-13

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Among Chosen Family

Thursday, as we sat around a big table crowded with more food than we could possible fit into our stomaches, we clinked glass to chosen family. It was a small group of people that had lived in the city for years and I felt so blessed to have a seat at this table of world changers. This group has celebrated many holidays away from family and friends so they are intentional about celebrating well with pumpkin pies and they even had a turkey this year. We even got hand print turkeys from one of the kids which was the perfect addition to make it feel like home. We watched Elf as the feast was prepared. It was still hard to be away from home and family but it felt really good to be welcomed into a chosen family.

I love the idea of chosen family especially when living halfway around the world. There is a growing group of expats in Kolkata, but there is a small group that was invited to take part in Thanksgiving. It is a group that has walked through the hard goodbyes and rejoiced in the good things together. They know how to be thankful for the little everyday gifts in this city of everyday chaos. We ate together until we could not possibly fit any more stuffing or mashed potatoes into our bellies. There were so many pies so once our stomachs had slightly recovered, they were filled again with pumpkin, pecan and apple pies. My belly was full and my heart was overflowing.

I am about six weeks into my time here and I am loving working with the women at Sari Bari. I have been working on marketing plans and helping with shipping which make the days go quickly. I begin teaching English with a group of managers this week so it will add some variety to my current routine. We live near the red light area so the mooring walk to work is usually less than fun but I have started listening to podcasts on the way so I have some control over what I hear and it drowns out the constant honking and yelling. I am so grateful for technology which has allowed me to keep in touch with family and friends. As the holiday season is in full swing back home, I am missing being home to bake cookies and going to Christmas parties.

I would love to receive notes or Christmas cards through this season so if you feel so inclined send some my way. My address is listed here.

If you want to check out Sari Bari and how you can get involved or buy product check out their website. They have some really great deals for Cyber Monday and they have a ton of bags and blankets which make great Christmas presents. Each purchase helps fan the flame of freedom within the red light areas. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Family. Familia. Poribar.

Family. I have the family I was born into and a few family I was adopted into by circumstance. When I lived in Kolkata a few years ago, I lived with a family which I lovingly refer to as my Indian family. Many times over the last few years I have referred to my Indian sister, brother, mom or dad to which people usually ask if I was adopted or if my family adopted a child from India. I lived with this family for 4 months is a relatively small space where we laughed, learned, ate and cried together. We got a small glimpse into what life is like for Indian families. I will forever cherish those moments of singing the National Anthem (because it was the only song all three of us white girls knew by heart, dancing to T. Swift and chatting with mom while she cooked dinner.

I have been in Kolkata for more than a month, and I had not seen my Indian family until last weekend. I had been looking forward to seeing my little brother and sister who were not so little now and chatting with my mom over tea. I wanted to ask so many questions. I wanted to just sit and hear about their lives over the last 3 years. I walked through the neighborhood which was my home years ago and saw familiar faces and they asked where my roommates were. Upendra met me on the main road and walked me to their new flat, and as we approached, Lucky was waiting at the gate and ran to give me a hug. It was the warm welcoming back into my Indian family. My little brother was not so little anymore and was eager to offer me cold water and a place to sit as we entered their flat. My mom gave me a big hug and welcomed me back. We ate and laughed about all the good times we had over the four months they had 3 American daughters. Mom shared about a time when a man from the neighborhood asked her how she had 3 foreign daughters and she shut him up by asking if he had a problem with it. I sat and talked with them for hours as they fed me until I literally could not eat or drink another bite. It felt just like home. I love how family picks up where it left off. I am so grateful for the family I have around the world.

This week is Thanksgiving. I am thankful for the opportunity to come back to a place to love and serve with some really amazing people. I am thankful to have a community all over the world supporting me on my journey in Kolkata. I am thankful for my community and their ability to walk alongside me in this crazy, chaotic, amazing city. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Month One

I arrived a month ago with so much excitement and anticipation with a mix of fear and anxiety. I have taken on a few big projects that I am excited to share with you as they come to fruition.  I had big picture ideas of how I could use my gifts to help Sari Bari, and I was looking forward to jumping in knowing my time here would fly by. In the last month, I have enjoying tapping into the marketing part of my brain which has been life giving as I get to dream and brainstorm new ideas for getting Sari Bari more exposure online. It has been almost 6 years since I was an intern at an ad agency which was an exhausting time of life but I realize how much I miss the business world. I love getting to plan and dream as I sit among the women which makes me want to work harder to help spread awareness of Sari Bari products and programs. I am also getting to tap into my teacher side by teaching conversational English with the managers. These women are all amazing leaders and I am excited to spend intentional time with them.

I have danced much. I have cried real tears. I have been frustrated. I have seen injustice. I have been welcomed into community. I have read books. I have enjoyed the benefits of technology. I have enjoyed morning coffee. I have built new friendships. I have eaten street food. I have explored new places. I have been force fed. I have been loved well.

I am looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my community here. I am excited to attend the Sari Bari Christmas parties where much dancing will happen. I am so grateful for technology so I can be a part of Christmas back home. I am grateful for the strong community here and their willingness to take me in for the holidays. I am forever thankful for my community back home who is reading updates, sending packages, supporting me financially and most importantly praying for each day of my journey in Kolkata. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Beautiful Messes

I was listening to a sermon online this morning on beautiful messes. One thing thing hit me in a new way this morning, I am a beloved child of God. He loves me in an unconditional way and wants the best for me regardless of where I am geographically. Living in a city as broken as Kolkata and working at a business in the middle of the red light district, I sometimes forget God is still good and still working and still wants the best for me as His child.

I have had this discussion with a wide range of friends at home and abroad. This topic has come up in Kolkata about how God does not expect us to have all the answers, but instead, to embrace our own messiness while working to see His beauty in this city. There are many times I feel so inadequate to be a part of the work in this city, but God can work great things through my inadequacies to help me see the beauty among the mess. As I walk through this city, most of my time is spent looking down to make sure I avoid stepping in all different kinds of messes that line the streets. The sweet moments of a Sunday morning stroll or walking through a less crowded corner of Kolkata are when I have the ability to look up to notice the beauty of the city. I see the bright, colorful saris hanging from the building as they dry in the afternoon sun. I see flowers blooming on a tree growing in the middle of a busy sidewalk. The view from our roof helps me change my perspective and the beauty above the chaos. The bright colors of the buildings are faded and slightly decayed, but yesterday I noticed flowers growing out of the broken bricks. It was a visual reminder that life thrives among the brokenness. I am challenging myself to see beauty even among the brokenness of my everyday walk through the red light district to Sari Bari.

As I write this, Christmas music is playing, the weather is turning cold and we are sipping tea. It has been a restful, life-giving weekend going to coffee shops and eating dinner with friends. I am ready to take on another week.

I will leave you with this picture of beauty among the broken. Happy Sunday!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Some Things Will Never Feel Normal

There is a new group of volunteers at Sari Bari for the next few weeks. As I walked them to the metro, we chatted about the trade and working at Sari Bari. One of them asked me if walking through the red light area ever gets easier knowing what is going in the lanes or walking past women who are working the line. I told her it never feels normal knowing what is going on behind closed doors or seeing women line the streets and lanes of the red light area. It breaks my heart and makes me want to break faces when I really think about it. I hate the men that see a woman a something that be used and abused. I hate that often times poverty determines if a woman will enter the trade. The few times I have walked through the heart of the red light area, I felt the heaviness of the area which stayed with me for the rest of the evening. It will never feel normal.

There is such a stark contract between the journey through the streets and lanes surrounding Sari Bari and inside the walls of Sari Bari. There is a sense of peace as I walk up the stairs and say hello to the women. It is a safe place for these women to find freedom and feel secure as they struggle and fight to continue the journey. It had been three years since the last time I was in Kolkata, and when I landed from a journey halfway around the world, Sarah asked me if I wanted to rest or jump right in and head to Sari Bari. It seemed like a no brainer. I went to Sari Bari and it felt as if I had only been gone a few weeks. There is a sense of hope, joy, peace and love among these women. It feels normal.

I will be spending the holidays in Kolkata which is always fun but not always easy to be away from friends and family. One way you can bless me this holiday season is by sending your Christmas photo/card to Kolkata with a fun note or word of encouragement. It will be fun to see familiar faces arrive in the mail and it will serve to make my room feel more homey. If you want to send other fun stuff (drawings from your kids, 99 cent store holiday decorations, magazines, holiday candy, coffee, coloring book masterpieces created by you, etc.) my roommate and I would not be opposed. (If you need my address click here.) I am so thankful for the loving community of people that love me well even half way around the world. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Leaning into Community

I have been in Kolkata for almost 3 weeks. On certain days it feels like I just arrived and certain days like I have been here for months. One of my biggest anxieties/fears (which I was terrified to voice) was finding community when I arrived. I knew the Sari Bari North American staff was intentional about spending time together but what did that look like for a short-term person like me. The community had shifted and changed in the 3 years I had been away and I wouldn't have the familiar faces of my team members from last time. I have been blown away by the way the expat community has welcomed me into small groups and morning coffee and spontaneous outings when we randomly run into each other while shopping. It is nice to have people who can say its okay to not be okay.

Last night we had a Halloween party where we dressed up in costumes, ate pizza on the roof and danced the night away. It was great seeing a group of people from 3 different continents come together and talk about the different projects everyone is involved with throughout the city. We talk about the realities of life here and the poop scale. (Yes it is a real thing.) This morning we had community church where all the expats come together for a time of prayer and Bible study. It blows me away that I get to participate in a group of people that love the Lord and fight for justice for those in this city. I love being challenged to see things in a new way and change the way I view the world and streets of Kolkata. I love being welcomed into this awesome community of amazing human beings.

Personally, the transition into life here has not been nearly as hard as it was last time. I feel at home as I fight my way to get places. I have learned how to buy food at the local market and gotten into a routine of hand washing clothes. My morning cup of coffee helps to start my morning as I pray and think about the upcoming day. The weekends are a gift to sit in shorts and a tank top as I catch up on blogs or reading for my internship. I am blessed to have the support of a loving community praying for me and encouraging me as I continue to do life here. As the holidays approach, please pray for our community as we will all be away from family this holiday season. Pray for health as the seasons are changing and sickness tries to creep in. I am looking forward to dancing, eating and celebrating Christmas with the Sari Bari women and the North American staff.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Importance of a Making Space for the Sabbeth

A few weeks ago, our Friday devotional time was about the importance of taking/having/creating a Sabbath day in our week. At that point I had been in the country approximately 72 hours and knew being intentional about creating space for a sabbath day was a struggle back in the States so I didn’t know what it would look like here. Kolkata is a city that demands respect from all who walk it’s streets so I am learning a sabbath day is super important for sustainability. Often times God sets up divine appointments such as running into friends while shopping yesterday so then we spent the afternoon over delicious treats and coffee. Through my time spent here a few years ago I know Sundays spent in Indian churches often left me more drained than renewed because of the journey to get there and the cultural differences. I wasn’t sure what my morning would look like then I received a text from Sarah, a wonderful human being and  it is a gift to work with her, who had made banana bread and invited me over to indulge in this treat. It was a gift to sit and chat over coffee and banana bread. We talked about God’s goodness through Sari Bari over the years and the way God has blessed her in 10 years in Kolkata. She is a woman who has passionately pursued God’s call and I have already learned so much from her in the few weeks I have been here. I was encouraged and learned so much in the few hours I spent with her this morning. I am learning health rhythms as I settle into life here and a intentional conversation over coffee is becoming something I look forward to as a time of renewal. (If you would like to contribute to the coffee stash that would be greatly appreciated since good coffee beans are not readily available here. You can send them to this address.

One of the big projects I have taken ownership of is the annual Sari Bari quilt auction which will happen in May 2015. We are currently looking for people who would like to make a quilt using recycled saris that would then be auctioned off to raise funds for a new building to provide freedom for more women. If you quilt or know someone who does and would be interested in participating please send me an email ( and I can send you all the information. 

I am in the full swing of life here and it has been a huge blessing the weather has been cooler. We are sleeping without our fan which is a big deal in October. I am learning my way around the city and feel comfortable negotiating the metro. My weeks are full of sitting among the women for tea and speaking broken Bangla. I have enjoyed being welcomed back into the Sari Bari community and I am looking forward loving these women well over the next 6 months. 

Mailing Address

Here is my mailing address for those of you who want to send me words of encouragement, coffee or other fun stuff.

Sari Bari Private Limited
℅ Upendra Saha 
Attn: Natalie Cook
9b Imam Box Lane
Kolkata 700006

If you are sending a package, the best way to ensure that all the contents arrive safely is to wrap the entire box in packing tape. It makes is harder for mail workers to cut into the box and take things out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Settling into the City of Joy

Kolkata is a city that leaves you drained. It is a city filled with noise, smells, and extremes. On the way to work each morning, I see people sleeping on the street, children headed to school, people huddling around the cha wallah getting their morning cup of tea, an array of vehicles honking and women working the line. I keep my head down carefully selecting each step navigating the variety of waste and puddles of unknown substances littering the streets. I begin each morning with a few cups of coffee and my Bible because I know by the end of that day I will be drained. Tonight my dinner was a handful of almonds, two chocolate sandwich cookies and a coke zero because I did not have the energy to cook.

One of my favorite things about working with Sari Bari is the sense of community among the women and the way they offer me a glimpse of the love they have to give. The greeting of "Joi Jesu" rings out as they greet me and embrace my lack of Bengali. They share their snacks (a small meal) with me over cha. I have been in the city for more than a week and had not yet gone to the south unit so today when I entered in the building numerous smiles greeted me. They remember me and asked where my other friends were and argued about which of my Bengali names to use. These are the moments I am filled up throughout the day.

Time seems to go fast and slow all at the same time in this city. It is hard to believe it has already and only been a week. I have loved seeing all the ways the city has changed and transformed over the last three years while still feeling like I know my around and where the best coffee shops are to relax and read. I have jumped into working at Sari Bari and I am looking forward to taking ownership of a couple big projects as well as teaching English. It is a full schedule and I love every moment. Here are a few things you can be praying for this week: continued health has been a huge blessing so far, learning Bengali so I can build relationships with the women and our community in Kolkata. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Familiar and Foreign at the Same Time

As I have explored and engaged the city, I have noticed the subtle differences such as new, clear signs on the metro as well as less spitting on the platform. There are more noticeable differences such as an influx of luxury cars fighting their way through Kolkata traffic and a new mall full of luxury brands which I could never afford even as an expat. It has been three years since I was last in Kolkata and there are so many ways it feels so familiar while feeling so foreign at the same time. There is the familiar hardness of a city where people live on the street and beg to get their daily needs. I feel myself harden as I join the crowds shuffling on and off the metro and hear fighting fill the lanes of the red light area. I fell the pull of western comforts of coffee shops when the stench of the streets becomes overwhelming. On the other hand, I feel my heart soften as I work alongside the women at Sari Bari. I loosen up as I begin to see familiar, friendly faces around the city. In many ways, city which seems so familiar and different is quickly becoming home.

I am grateful for the past week of little responsibility as I readjusted and became reacquainted with the city. It has been really fun sitting with Sarah and talking about the reality of business in a foreign culture . I have asked questions about what has worked and what has failed over the years. I am excited to take ownership of projects and continue conversations to help Sari Bari thrive in the future. Starting Monday, I will learn more about my my role for my time here. There have been a few conversations about how I can help but Monday things become my job. It will help establish a routine for each week. 

I ask for your prayers as I continue to settle into the community and my job at Sari Bari. Pray for Kolkata as a whole during the festival season over the next month. Pray that Jesus would be shown through me as I engage the city. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Assault on all Senses

Kolkata is a city that assaults each of the five senses. Upon landing at the Kolkata airport, the air was thick with pollution and the buildings were visually decaying. The air was hot and humid as I walked through the jet way to the newly built airport. The immigration area was fully of noise and chaos as people from all over the world joined the line to gain entry into the city. A sea of Indian faces greeted me as I made my way through customs and found Sarah's familiar face among the crowds. The taxi ride to my new home reminded me of the blaring noise of horns and people. The air was saturated with the smell of street food and the aroma of spices. It was a true assault on the senses, but it felt like I was home. 

One pleasant surprise was running into a familiar face on my flight from LAX to Dubai. It was a treat to sit and talk about our fears of our upcoming journeys to hard places. It was great share the fear of the unknown, but the goodness and provision of God up to this point. When we arrived in Dubai, we sat and chatted over lattes before his plane departed. It was truly a gift to have a friend along the way. 

I arrived safe and sound on Tuesday morning local time after about 30 hours of travel. I forced myself to hit the ground running. The route to Sari Bari was pleasantly familiar as I passed kids yelling and playing. I walked up the stairs to Sari Bari just as devotion time was ending and the women started on their work. I loved seeing familiar faces and the meted reactions of surprise and joy. Some of the women immediately recognized my face and gave me hugs and began asking questions in Bengali while other women took a little longer to recognize me. I loved every exhausting moment of that first day when I powered through travel and exhaustion to begin my time in a crazy, chaotic city that I love. 

It has been a wonderful few days getting to know my roommate and relearning how to navigate the city. Today is a holiday so it is a day to rest and readjust. I am looking forward to unpacking (yes I have been here 2 full days and not unpacked), drinking coffee and watching movies. I am so grateful for your prayers as embark on journey of serving the women of Sari Bari. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Being Sent Out

Last Sunday, I was commissioned by Grace Church of Glendora to be sent out. It was a really cool time where the congregation heard about what I will be doing, and I was able to share things they can pray for as I join the Sari Bari community in Kolkata. I shared in the three English services as well as the Spanish service. I was blown away by the way the entire church came alongside me to pray and encourage me as I step out in faith. In a way, I know physically I am the only one going to India, but I will be accompanied in spirit by all of those who are praying for me.

Last night, my friend Karen and I had a joint birthday party which served as a going away party as well. I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who showed up just to share a few moments with me before I leave. My worlds collided as my friends from high school, college, camp and church all came together to eat, laugh and hang out. I felt honored and blessed to have so many people show up to send me off well. I appreciate every single prayer, hug, tear and laugh. I feel truly loved and ready to follow God to Kolkata.

People have asked for a mailing address in Kolkata. Here it is:

sari bari private limited
attn: Natalie Cook
9b Imam Box Lane
Kolkata 700006

Monday, October 13, 2014

Expectantly Waiting

At the beginning of the year, I didn't know what this year would bring or where God was leading me. I first read the phrase "expectantly waiting" during a quiet retreat in Kolkata. I decided this phrase would be my anthem this year. I would seek God in all decisions and say yes to all the paths He asked me to go down along the way. I wanted to sit with open hands so I would not miss little blessings like coffee with a friend who lives down the street or visiting a friend in London. Often times, waiting periods seem tedious almost as if God forgot to continue leading our paths. I love this phrase because it implies we know God will show up and show up in big ways. I am expecting God to do some amazing things during my time in Kolkata and I hope I have the eyes to see God work.

Expectantly waiting. These two words sum up all of the thoughts and emotions running through my mind. I leave in 6 days. I move from one community to another. I go from working with middle class high school students to women who cling to hope of a better life outside the trade. I am stocking up on coffee because it is a treat in Kolkata. Peanut butter and nutella are neatly packed along side my Forest Home mugs. Packing is a process of choosing things that are necessary and things that feel like home. It is a process of filling a suitcase, weighing the suitcase and reshuffling everything I packed so far. It is a process that can't be put off too long but I am avoiding for as long as possible. On Sunday, everything will be packed, I will go to the airport and I will leave. I still sit with open hands to remain open to how God will work over the next week and throughout my time in India. Expectantly waiting. 

Many people have asked how they can pray or how they can help as I leave this week. I ask for your prayers as I prepare to say many goodbye over the new few days. I ask for prayers for the Sari Bari community I will be joining. I ask for your prayers for strength as I work among broken people in a very dark part of the world. I also ask for prayers for financial support. I am so grateful for the may people who have already supported me and I know God will provide each step of the way. If you are interested in supporting me financially, go to and click online giving, select "team India" from the drop down menu to ensure the money will go into my account. 

I continue expectantly waiting as I prepare to leave. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Eventful Week

The last week has been filled with the awesome, wonderful news of my visa application being approved and the awful, terrible news of a friend passing away. There have been encouraging conversations of genuine excitement for my upcoming journey along with hours of conversation with my best friend as we process through our friend's death. It has been an emotionally exhausting week, but I know this is preparation for my time in Kolkata where crisis is a normal part of daily life. I am grateful to have people who love me through the tough stuff.

This weekend I spent time in Tucson visiting a church that was on my team at camp this summer. It was a gift to visit a group of people who spoke words of truth and encouragement. During their week at camp this summer, they prayed for my journey and were genuinely excited for me to pursue God's leading in my life. I love how camp connects people who love God and encourage others to passionately pursue Him. A few weeks ago, I visited a church in San Diego and it was this youth pastor that spoke truth at camp and encouraged me to go where my heart was which at this point in Kolkata. It was good to sit and share how his words helped push me towards returning to a place I love. I am so grateful for the community camp has provided and new friends who encourage and point me towards the cross. My time visiting churches is refreshing, life-giving and a gift as I prepare for departure.

I leave in less than two weeks! Pieces are starting to fall into place. I am starting to say my goodbyes. I am getting my fill of In-N-Out, good Mexican food, donuts and lattes. I am taking time to sit with friends sharing hopes and fears of my journey to India. I am thankful for those who ask questions and are willing to listen. I am looking forward to sharing stories along the way.

I am almost half way to my financial support goal. If you would like to partner with my financially click here and select "Team India" from the drop down menu. All donations are tax deductible. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Taking time to Celebrate

One thing I love about Sari Bari is celebrating freedom birthdays. It is a time set aside to celebrate the anniversary of their first steps on the path to freedom. It is a break from work to recognize the women that have chosen to continue on the difficult path of freedom. It is a time to recognize they are not on that path alone. This taught me the importance of taking time to celebrate the people around us. Often times, I forget to take time to celebrate simple things like birthdays or new jobs because other things come up. We live in a culture of busyness where we go from one place to the next without really thinking because we live life on auto pilot. I notice this in my own life when I hesitate to RSVP to a party because I think something better or more important will come up.

This weekend I had the privilege to celebrate a friend's birthday the entire weekend. Friday night was a celebration with friends we worked with at camp. Saturday night was friends we grew up with at church. Sunday night was new friends from church. Each night brought fun and excitement. I love people watching which is even more fun around a table of people who know and love each other. I loved watching faces light up as another friend showed up to join the celebration. There was lots of laughter as we remembered the craziness of camp. There was joy in friends sharing new opportunities they have been giving. There was encouragement given as people shared the struggles of ministry or the uncertainty that accompanies graduation. Celebrations bring people together not only to acknowledge one person but in order to reconnect to community.

I am looking forward to celebrating many freedom birthdays as well as Christmas with the Sari Bari ladies. There will be a lot of dancing, more food than my stomach can hold and so much laughter. These are the sweet moments I look forward to as I prepare my heart to go back to Kolkata. I look forward to sharing these moments with you though my blog. Please continue to pray for me as my departure date approaches and there is so much to get done. Also if you would like to partner with me financially, click here and select "Team India" from the drop down menu. All donations are tax deductible.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

One Month and a Growing To Do List

If all goes according to plan, I will board a plane bound for Kolkata 1 month from today. I have a ticket book. My visa is being processed. I am starting a packing list. I am heading back to a place and people I love. I cherish conversations with friends over coffee or a meal as they ask how I am feeling as the departure date approaches. I get to share sweet memories of tea time with the ladies at Sari Bari. I share the memories of laughter and mini dance parties as the women complete beautiful products that carry their name as a sign of hope. Along with the good memories, I share the bad memories of being viewed as an object for men to touch and grab as I travel through the city. I share how my heart breaks for the thousands of women stuck in the sex trade. I share the memories of the faces I pass on the streets just hoping someone will acknowledge their humanity.

God has given me the gift of a community that loves me well. I am so grateful for friends who are willing to sit and ask the hard questions. Many times, they just sit and listen. They listen to my excitement and my fears. Sometimes, we just sit in silence and it is in the silence that they allow me to process. They carve time out of their busy schedules to be present. Being present shows that I am valued, loved, important. I am choosing to go and be present at Sari Bari. I pray for the women. I pray for the ministry being done. I pray for the people who devote their life to serving in Kolkata. There is something special about getting to see first hand what God is doing instead of reading it in a blog or an email. I want to see first hand the way God is working and moving in these broken areas. I am choosing to walk through an open door.

As I take a step out in faith, I am asking you to join me. Kolkata is a hard city to do life in as a single female so the first way to partner with me is through prayer. I ask for prayer as I continue planning and preparing my heart to return to Sari Bari. I ask for prayer for my family as they prepare to send me off. I ask for prayer for the community I will be joining in Kolkata and the ladies at Sari Bari. The second way you can partner with me is financially. I will be raising financial support for my time in Kolkata so I will be able to wholly give my energy and effort to Sari Bari. After months of praying about returning to Kolkata, God has opened doors to return in 4 short weeks. I ask you to pray and consider partnering with me financial if you are able. The total cost of my time in Kolkata is about $6000 which includes airfare and living expenses. If you would like to partner with me financially, you can donate online by clicking here and selecting "Team India" from the drop down menu.

I thank you for your prayers and support as I follow God's leading in this next season of life. Feel free to send me an email if you would like to grab coffee and chat.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Path that Leads to Kolkata

I love that God has allowed travel to be a huge part of my story. Friends often ask where my next trip will take me or when I am leaving again. A year ago, I was dreaming and preparing for life in Lima and then things changed. This left me broken and confused. It took me a few months to realize that God had a different plan for my life this year. I was able to lead a small group of high school girls and continue serving in the youth group. I was able to visit my brothers and see my nephew take his first steps. I was able to work another summer at camp and serve alongside some amazing people while serving churches. I learned to find joy in the little things. I learned a posture of openhandedness where I didn't cling to plans that I made and instead held my hands open for whatever came my way.

I have been praying about returning to Kolkata for several months and God has opened doors for me to return. I will be working with Sari Bari which provides employment for women exploited by the sex trade or are vulnerable to sex trafficking. I worked with Sari Bari in 2011 and fell in love with the women that found freedom with Sari Bari. Kolkata is a city filled with chaos, but among the chaos, Sari Bari is filled with peace and hope. (Read more about Sari Bari here.)

I am excited to embark on this journey that started three years ago and be able to invest in women that I already love. I will be able to use my gifts and talents to teach conversational English to the managers as well as helping with administrative for the business. I am hoping to leave October 19 which is less than 6 weeks away. I would appreciate your prayers as I apply for my visa and begin preparing to serve among the women at Sari Bari.

I will be raising support for my time in Kolkata. I have committed to spending six months which means I need around $6000 to cover airfare, visa, living expenses while in Kolkata. I have partnered with Grace Church of Glendora to raise support so if you would like to partner with me financially please send checks (DO NOT WRITE MY NAME ON THE CHECK) to:

Grace Church Glendora
C/O Team India
1515 S. Glendora Ave. 
Glendora, CA 91740

Please include a slip of paper with "Natalie Cook Kolkata, India" to ensure it is allocated to my support account. If you have any questions about my trip or would like to hear more, feel free to shoot me an email at 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"What are you so happy about?!?!?"

Today I spend the morning with a good friend eating gluten free pancakes, drinking chai tea lattes and strolling along the Dana Point Harbor. This friend has walked the path of disappointment, anger, sadness and joy of not going to Peru. It has been a path filled with high and lows and appreciate her willingness to sit and listen while asking questions that help me process life. Today we talked about the future. What does it look like to change career paths in our late 20s? Is debt wise to help find our vocation? How do we overcome the fear of past disappointments/rejections? Needless to say we did not walk away with new careers but instead walked away with a willingness to get into the game.

The last six months have been a roller coaster of emotions. Preparing to leave for Peru then having to make the hard decision to not go to Peru. The struggle of planning and preparing to leave my community then the joy of not having to leave. The pain I probably caused the community I was going to be part of in Lima was not something I am proud of, but God had a different plan for my life. I thought I was processing through this disappointment, but instead, I was holding on to the bitterness I felt towards God for not sending me to Peru. I realized the bitterness was making me gun shy to pursue anything else, especially missions opportunities. I wanted to be mad and disappointed. I wanted to be the victim. God let me pout, but He also brought people around me that could speak words through the bitterness to help me see God. I realized my bitterness/anger was only hurting myself and I was letting the fear of disappointment/rejection paralyze me from moving on. Once I let go, God opened my eyes to so many ways I can use my gifts and talents for His kingdom. He also helped me realize my heart is trafficking prevention which is not the focus of the ministry I was going to be working with in Lima. I want to bring hope into the Red Light Districts around the world in a way points to a loving God that wants to restore brokenness. I'm not exactly sure what that looks like yet, but I am getting back in the game by starting conversations about what that would look like for a white girl from Southern California. I am taking steps to find my vocation.

Today we walked to the harbor. As we walked back to our cars, a man who appeared to be homeless angrily asked/yelled "What are you so happy about?" as we crossed paths on the sidewalk. He did not wait for a response, but the question made me realize God has restored my joy in the little things. My heart is lighter and my laughter more genuine. Thanks random guy making me realize I have so much to be happy about and my joy is noticeable to others.